Tag Archives: constitution

We love the Constitution yet hate our government. The past tells us why.

Summary:  The pasts of other nations provide insights into the problems of America today, free lessons of what works and what fails. Some pasts are more relevant than most. Some are more disturbing. Some are both; these are the ones that deserve your attention.

The Hitler Myth

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As discussed here previously, NAZI Germany was the first nation to break from traditional modes of western society into modernity. During and after WW2 the West followed Germany into a world with a new morality, plus new physical and political technology.  Although we recoil from direct comparison to NAZIs, we seldom feel uncomfortable from the aspects we have in common. Perhaps we should.

Excerpt from “The Good Tsar Bias

By Xavier Marquez
Prof Political Science, Victoria University of Wellington

At his website, 16 July 2014
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Ian Kershaw’s remarkable book The “Hitler Myth”: Image and Reality in the Third Reich {see Wikipedia} is a really clever piece of public opinion archeology. It attempts to reconstruct the rise and fall of Hitler’s popularity in Nazi Germany, drawing primarily on secret reports compiled by the Gestapo, the Security Service of the SS, and the clandestine agents of the banned Social Democratic Party.

…Among other things, the book makes the case that, at least until the war started turning sour in late 1942, Hitler was far more popular than the Nazi Party, which quickly grew to be disliked, even despised, by the vast majority of Germans,  despite the initial improvement in economic conditions they experienced in the early years of the Third Reich:

At the centre of our enquiry here is the remarkable phenomenon that Hitler’s rising popularity was not only unaccompanied by a growth in the popularity of the Nazi Party, but in fact developed in some ways at the direct expense of his own Movement.

In Kershaw’s telling, the contrast arose primarily from the fact that the “little Hitlers” (as Party functionaries were sometimes derogatorily called) were constantly encountered in everyday life, where they were perceived, not without ample justification, as corrupt and overbearing, while Hitler operated on a “higher” plane, concerned with the “big questions” of war and peace.

America has no Leader as the foundation of our political regime. But the dynamics Kershaw describes might explain the largest anomaly of modern American politics: we revere the Constitution — increasingly so, if the Tea Party is representative — but have low and falling confidence in the Republic’s political institutions. From Gallup’s 2014 Confidence in Institutions poll:

  • Supreme Court:…….30%
  • Presidency:…………..29%
  • Congress:……………..07%
  • executive agencies:..???   (most probably rate very low)

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Why do we pledge allegiance to a flag, ignoring the Founders’ instructions?

Summary:  We need to return to basics in order to reform America. Devising complex technocratic solutions are a snare and dead end, building castles in the sky while the 1% gain strength.  We need to return to the fundamentals of the American project, both the symbolic and conceptual designs. Today we look at the Pledge, another in a series searching for a path to a better future for America.

Flag and Eagle

Swear allegiance to the flag.
The bird is dumb, too.

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Oaths were not purpos’d, more than law,
To keep the Good and Just in awe,
But to confine the Bad and Sinful,
Like mortal cattle in a penfold.

— Samuel Butler’s “Hudibras”, Part II, Canto II (1664)

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This is great: Article II Section 1 of the Constitution:

I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.

In the fires of the Civil War a more detailed oath was forged, passed on 13 May 1884, now taken by all civil, military, and judicial officials excerpt the President. This is perfect:

I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter.

This oath points to our duty under the founding document. The Tea Party was exactly right that we have lost sight of our system as it was, and forgotten how it should work. Too bad they’re interested in only fragments of the Constitution, and despise some of its principles (i.e., they’re part of the problem, not the solution).

As the United States evolved in the Gilded Age, with rising inequality at home and imperial aspirations abroad, our rulers devised an oath suitable for peasants.  This was written by Francis Bellamy (socialist and Baptist minister) in 1892, formally adopted by Congress in 1942, and revised four times since then. The Founders are appalled by this.

I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

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About the crisis: The GOP is right. So is Obama. That’s why it’s a crisis.

Summary:  We can learn lost lessons about our government from the debt crisis. Much of what’s said in the media is wrong, chaff thrown to confuse us. Here are some simple facts about the crisis. Both sides are right. If they cannot agree, there is a simple but perilous solution. It has worked before and will work again — but must not be overused. This is the third in a four part series.
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Traitor

Let’s not overreact

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Contents

  1. Introduction: our problem
  2. The Republicans are correct
  3. The President’s Options
  4. The 14th Amendment
  5. Other posts in this series
  6. For More Information

(1)  Introduction: our problem

The Republicans in Congress are using their leverage to change ObamaCare, entitlement spending, and tax policy. They are holding government spending hostage, and threatening to force the government to default on its debt.  The slowdown (not a shutdown) is depressing the economy and harming a large number of Americans.  Unless Congress acts, sometime after October 17 the Federal government will default on its bonds.

(2)  The Republicans are correct

Many of us have forgotten the basics of our system.

  • Congress and Presidents have equal legitimacy as elected representatives of the people.
  • Control of spending is among the greatest powers of the legislature, and has been a powerful tool to shift power from Kings to the people.
  • Therefore the House has both history and law on their side in this battle with President Obama.

Democrats argue that Washington’s rules of polite conduct trump law and logic, as if conflicts about high public policy should be run like Sunday afternoon monopoly games — where consulting the actual rules is a no-no.

For details see this excerpt from “Government shutdowns are the worst kind of budgetary reversion, except for all the rest“, Gary Cox (Professor of Political Science, Stanford), blog of the Washington Post, 3 October 2013:

Who came up with the idea that budgets should be delayed as a means to force the executive to adopt policies it doesn’t want to?

The idea goes back to England’s Glorious Revolution, where MPs fought hard to put the Crown on a short financial leash, so that they could control Crown officials’ actions. Although they did not use the term, English arguments about what would give Parliament bargaining leverage vis-à-vis the Crown hinged on the budgetary reversion.  Because expenditure authority would lapse every year, forcing portions of the government to “shut down” in contemporary American parlance, parliamentarians were assured the Crown would seek a new budget every year — whereupon they could bargain for attainment of their various goals.

As James Madison put it, “This power over the purse may…be regarded as the most complete and effectual weapon with which any constitution can arm the immediate representatives of the people, for obtaining a redress of every grievance, and for carrying into effect every just and salutary measure.”

… when given the power a shutdown reversion confers, the “immediate representatives of the people” have, in country after country, done precisely the sort of thing that the House Republicans are now doing. They have sought to force the executive to adopt “just and salutary” measures, using the threat of a government shutdown. Examples include the Australian episode noted by Max Fisher, Chile before and after its civil war of 1891, and various European countries that subsequently sought to create what was dubbed parliamentarisme rationalisé in the interwar period.

… There are two and only two institutional reforms that can reliably avoid the bargaining failures that lead to shutdowns. … {see the article for more}

(3) The President’s options

President Obama’s actions to protect the United States in response to Congress must conform to the following three laws:

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This was the week that was in the death of the Constitution

Summary: What a wonderful week, bringing to even the most obtuse of Americans unmistakable evidence of our government’s growing power. These incidents are insignificant in themselves, more of the endless scandals that titillated members of America’s outer  party (the proles don’t care about such things; the inner party knows their irrelevance). But they might give small pushes to help a few see the true state of America.

(1) The Tea Party discovered that the government will investigate even white conservatives! Watch their anti-reality screens glow as they deflect all evidence that it was routine low-level actions, not planned attack by the Black Pretender in the White House.

(2) Journalists discovered that the government has no friends, only subjects and targets. Even their supine support of the government — concealing secrets, spinning stories to their benefit, denying a voice to its opponents — gives them no immunity from government surveillance. Legal surveillance, due to the post-9/11 shredding of the 4th Amendment.

(3) During the five years posting warnings on the FM website, I have received many forms of replies saying Don’t worry; all is well. None say it in as few words as this tweet, which should be carved on the eventual memorial to the late great Constitution:

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On this important date let’s remember the past and look forward to our future

Summary:  On this day in 1781 the America Republic was born in the midst of war. Here we review its evolution, and the latest stage — which looks like the largest step yet. At some point incremental steps create something new, something different.

Science Fiction Shows a Possible Future for America

“So this is how liberty dies. To thunderous applause.”
— Queen Padme in Revenge of the Sith (2005)

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Evolution of the American Republic

On this day in 1781  the Republic version 1.0 was born, as Maryland ratified the Articles of Confederation, making it the basis of the revolutionary government.

On 21 June 1788 version 2.0 of the Republic was born, as New Hampshire ratified the Constitution — replacing the Articles (in defiance of the Articles provisions for amendment).

On 9 April 1865 General Lee surrendered, ending the 4 year long birth throes of version 2.1 of the Republic.

On 2 September 1945 the Empire of Japan surrendered, ending the 12 year long birth throes of version 2.2 of the Republic.

On 11 September 2011 al Qaeda attacked America, giving Bush Jr the opportunity to initiate massive changes in US domestic and foreign policy. Ratified and expanded by Obama, these radically changed the course of America’s evolution from that of version 2.0. As with the previous transitions, the magnitude of this change will become obvious only slowly. This might be the largest transformation of all. My guess is that the result will be version 3.0 — a New America.

Versions 1.0, 2.0, and 2.1 had highly limited franchises — limiting the vote by property, race, and gender. Version 3.0 might also be a limited democracy. Perhaps very limited, such as a plutocracy or a high-tech version of a elite-controlled society.

The builders of the New America, and the applause

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Obama repeals Magna Carta, asserting powers our forefathers denied to Kings

Summary:  The Republic  is at war against an adaptive foe that seeks its destruction. Not al Qaeda, which might no longer exist in meaningful form, but internal foes seeking its overthrow. That they’re moving incrementally, small steps slowly growing larger with each success, only masks the boldness of their goals. It’s the quiet coup. Here we look at the latest chapter in the war, the most recent rip torn in the Constitution.

“Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”
— Benjamin Franklin, 1775

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As the America-that-Once-Was evolves into the quite different New America, the identity of those responsible becomes increasingly clear.  It’s us. Our disinterest in working the Founders’ machinery of self-government. Our passive acceptance of Empire and plutocracy. Saddest of all is our abandonment of America’s ideals, the end point of a thousand year-long struggle.

These things are all seen in our reaction to President Obama’s white paper granting himself powers not seen in Anglo-American history since the Stuart Kings. Limiting the Monarchs’ right of arbitrary arrest and punishment of their subjects took 450 years, from the first tentative agreement in Magna Carta (1215) to its achievement in the English Civil War (1641-1662).  Now, with our complaisance, Presidents Bush Jr and Obama have erased much of that progress.

Two provisions of Magna Carta deserve our attention today, a gift to us from the Barons of 13th century England.

38.  No bailiff for the future shall, upon his own unsupported complaint, put anyone to his “law”, without credible witnesses brought for this purposes.  {This was replaced by improved legislation in 1863}

39.  No freemen shall be taken or imprisoned or disseised {deprived of land} or exiled or in any way destroyed, nor will we go upon him nor send upon him, except by the lawful judgment of his peers or by the law of the land.  {This remains in force for the people of England, but no longer in the USA}

Our ancestors spent much blood, sweat, and tears between that day at Runnymede and the meeting in 1878 at Philadelphia.  The liberties provided by the Constitution were won over those 30 generations, by the unruly Saxons and Normans of Medieval England — and the Founders, jealous of their liberties and willing to fight for them.  In the decade since 9-11 we’ve thoughtlessly thrown away political structures that took centuries to build.

The Constitution is just a “paper bullet of the brain”, with no power except to the degree it lives in our hearts.  That love appears to have died.

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Let’s look at the Second Amendment, cutting through the myths and spin

Summary:  It’s the great oddity of the US that we order our society based on exegesis of an 18th century document, written in grammar no longer used with words whose meaning has often radically changed.  Instead of justice or logic, our judges have become like the mandarins of Imperial China — parsing the meaning of a document that no longer lives in any other meaningful sense.  In the 6th chapter of this series, we wade into the thickets to understand how this plays out over the corpse of the Constitution with respect to the second amendment.

Studying the Constiution

Studying the Constitution

Section I, article 8 (see analysis by the Congressional Research Service):

The Congress shall have power …

To provide for calling forth the militia to execute the laws of the union, suppress insurrections and repel invasions;

To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the militia, and for governing such part of them as may be employed in the service of the United States, reserving to the states respectively, the appointment of the officers, and the authority of training the militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress;

Second Amendment (see analysis by the Congressional Research Service):

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

A quick history of the Second Amendment

From “Guns and Grammar: the Linguistics of the Second Amendment“, Dennis Baron (Prof Linguistics, U IL at Urbana-Champaign):

English common law had long acknowledged the importance of effective arms control, and the meaning of the Second Amendment seemed clear to the framers and their contemporaries: that the people have a right to possess arms when serving in the militia. Over the years, this “collective rights” interpretation of the Second Amendment was upheld in 3 Supreme Court decisions, in 1876, 1886, and most recently, in 1939 (Bogus 2000).

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